Eden on the Pacific: The Challenges to Judaism at the Turn of the Century

Fred Rosenbaum

in Cosmopolitans

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2009 | ISBN: 9780520259133
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520945029 | DOI:
Eden on the Pacific: The Challenges to Judaism at the Turn of the Century

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Judaism was of primary importance only for a few cultural luminaries in the Bay Area's second generation of Jews. To be sure, only a handful converted to Christianity, including Alice Toklas and actor David Warfield, who converted long after they left San Francisco. A welter of belief systems competed with traditional religion: ethical culture, spiritualism, theosophy, universalism, astrology, fortune-telling, and, above all, Christian Science. In this New Age (the term was already in use), California spawned numerous cults such as the fervent group surrounding naturalist John Muir, which exalted nature and worshipped the mountains. Local Jews were drawn to these alternative creeds, but many more subscribed to no faith at all. Whether or not they married outside the faith, many women in the second generation turned away from Judaism. A window into synagogue life is opened by the minute books of bellwether Sherith Israel, the oldest congregation in the city (along with Emanu-El, founded in April 1851). As they had during pioneer times, fraternal and charitable institutions fared better than the synagogues in the new century.

Keywords: Jews; San Francisco; Judaism; religion; Christian Science; New Age; cults; women; synagogues; charitable institutions

Chapter.  13064 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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